Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School

Sociology and Rural Studies

First Advisor

Guangqing Chi


demographic impact, freight rail, railroad, socioeconomic impact spatial analysis, transportation


Railroads have played a critical role in economic growth and development, and they exert a tremendous impact on the distribution and redistribution of the population. However, the impacts of railroads, especially freight rails, on population change and socioeconomic development are not well understood. This study fills the gap in the literature by examining the demographic and socioeconomic impacts of freight rails using county-level data in the continental United States from 1970 to 2010. The demographic and socioeconomic changes are measured by eleven dependent variables. Of those eleven, six are demographic (population, young, old, White, Black, Hispanic) and five are socioeconomic (high school, bachelor’s degree, graduate degree, employment, and income). The railroad is the explanatory variable, and it is measured by freight rail terminal density. This study utilizes data from various sources including the National Transportation Atlas Database, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS), cartographic boundary shapefiles, the land developability index, and decennial censuses of 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010. This study utilizes exploratory spatial data analysis, standard regression, and spatial regression models. The application of spatial lag model, spatial error model, and spatial error model with lag dependence systematically considers the spatial effects and produces more robust results. There are four broad major findings of this research. First, freight rail is a distributive force. Second, freight rail contributes to the urbanization and suburbanization process. Third, freight rail facilitates demographic and socioeconomic change. Fourth, freight rail has differential demographic and socioeconomic impacts at the regional level. The findings of this study are the outcomes of the multiple dependent and independent variables tested for many decades using robust statistical methods that measure direct and indirect impacts. Not only does this study apply the most advanced statistical methods in the railroad research, but it also addresses the social impact, which are less-researched topics in transportation literature. This study contributes uniquely to the transportation, demographic and social equity literature and extends the transportation discussion from the development perspective, and it could be useful helping shape a just society, which is the ultimate goal of transportation policy.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Railroads -- Freight -- Economic aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Railroads -- Freight -- Economic aspects -- United States -- History -- 21st century.
Economic development -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Economic development -- United States -- History -- 21st century.
Community development -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Community development -- United States -- History -- 21st century.


Includes bibliographical references (pages 344-357)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright